There is an old saying that the opposite of love is not hate; it is indifference. Indeed, it’s pretty hard to hate or even to have a strong aversion to something or someone we don’t really care about. But when we do love, we care. And the stronger our love, the more intense our concern, anger, or even hatred for what is wrong.
But does this mean that love is the cause of hatred? Our instinct is to recoil and say, “Of course not!”
As usual, St. Thomas provides help in sorting out some of the details and making proper distinctions. He takes up the question in the Prima Secundae (question 29 and Article 2): “Is Love the Cause of Hatred?”
Love … precedes hatred; and nothing is hated, except through being contrary to a suitable thing which is loved. And hence it is that every hatred is caused by love (Summa Theologica, I IIae 29.2, respondeo).
In other words, St. Thomas is saying that we would not hate that which is wrong, deformed, unjust, or dissonant unless we first loved what it was supposed to be. And thus love precedes hatred. It causes hatred by first instilling the love for what is right and then engendering a detestation of what is wrong.
An important distinction – If the word “hate” is tripping you up, understand that “hate” as used here is not referring to a vengeful wrath that seeks to destroy others. That sort of hate is, of course, forbidden; it flows not from wanting the good, true, and beautiful for others, but from a desire to destroy them. This is diabolical hatred: a hatred that hates, not the sin, but the sinner.
The hate referenced here is more akin to grief, or to the sorrow and anger we feel when someone or something is not as it should be. It is grief and a passion to set things right. This is the sort of hatred that love causes.
St. Thomas adds in his reply to objection 2:
Love and hatred are contraries … [and so] it amounts to the same that one love a certain thing, or that one hate its contrary. Thus love of one thing is the cause of one’s hating its contrary (I IIae 29.2, ad 2).
If we don’t love, we don’t care. But when we love, we care, and we experience indignation when what we care about is deformed, cast aside, or contrary to what it should be. And in this way loves causes hatred.
Love wills the good of the other, for his or her own sake. Love does not will the good of the other in order to win an argument or to be proved right. It wills the good simply for the sake of the other. St. Thomas says that love hates what is contrary to what is suitable and proper. But since no person, human or angelic, is in himself contrary to what is proper, we do not hate the person but rather what is deformed or contrary to what it should be. Therefore, a human (or angelic) person can never be the object of our hatred, per se.
One might object that correlation is not causation, and that is true, but in this case the hatred would not exist at all were the thing not first loved in its ideal form. It is this love of the ideal that causes the hatred of what is deformed. Thus love is the cause of the hatred, not merely correlated to it.
Why is this important for us to grasp? There are many reasons, but of special importance is understanding it in relation to one another.
In modern times, we have tended to reduce love to kindness, warm feelings, affirmation, and approval. But this is a drastic reduction of love. Kindness is an aspect of love, but so is rebuke. Approval and affirmation have their place, but so do forbiddance and insistence on what is right. Love can produce warm feelings but it can also bring about the deepest indignation.
When we love others we want for them what is good, true, just, proper, and beautiful—not what is deformed. And given the fact that we live in a fallen world, governed by a fallen angel, and are ourselves fallen and prone to sin, true love for others will have tensions. But tension is not always bad. No tension, no change. And change is going to be necessary for us to reach the perfection to which we are called.
So true love, properly understood, is capable of great indignation—yes, even of hatred. We ought to hate anything that is deformed or that is less than that to which we are called. Scripture says that if we love the world (a lesser thing) then we are enemies of God—yes, even adulterers! For God is our true love; anything less than loving God above all else is to be hated. Jesus gets even more personal when he says, If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—such a person cannot be my disciple (Lk 14:26). Jesus is insisting on the same truth: that He is to be loved above all. Any lesser love that takes His place is a hateful and harmful thing.
Such strong language! And we in these dainty times wince at it. But vigorous love causes a hatred of deformity and a jealousy for the fullness of what love should be. Much of our problem today is that we do not hate our sins or those of others nearly enough. From this perspective, our modern notion of kind, tolerant “love” is really slothful, weak love that seeks what makes everyone feel good rather than what is best. Feeling good becomes more important that doing good or being good. The ancient motto esse quam videri (to be rather than to seem (to be)) is reversed and it becomes more important to seem to be than it is to actually be.
Thus our modern notion of love is weak at best and a lie at worst. St. Thomas’ teaching that love is the cause of hatred indicates that our lack of hate for sin and other deformities of what is good, true, and beautiful is caused by a lack of love. It is not a display of open-mindedness or tolerance; it is a lack of love.
True love admits of jealousy, indignation, and hatred for what is deformed, deficient, untrue, or obtuse. True love is fiery; it has a passion to set things right and to insist on what is truly good rather than what is merely adequate.
How deep is your love? Is it capable of being the cause of hatred? It ought to be (if properly understood).
Does this sort of talk unnerve you? Let me finish by simply requoting St. Thomas:
Love … precedes hatred; and nothing is hated, except through being contrary to a suitable thing which is loved. And hence it is that every hatred is caused by love.